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Sugar and Slate

"Melding intimate memoir with the intertwined histories of Wales, Africa and the Caribbean, this masterwork reveals the broader contexts of a journey to find a sense of home and belonging."

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LoveReading Says

LoveReading Says

Charlotte Williams’ Sugar and Slate, part of Penguin’s pioneering Black Britain, Writing Back series, is one of the most extraordinary memoirs I’ve ever read. Intimate, illuminating and un-put-down-able, this sees Williams lay bare the complex connected histories of Wales, Africa, and the Caribbean through her personal experience of cultural dislocation, and being half Welsh, half Afro-Caribbean and marginalised in a country that is itself marginalised. In the author’s words, Sugar and Slate is “a story of childhood and youth, of Welshness and otherness, of roots and rootlessness, of marriage, connection and disconnection, of going away and coming home.” And what a story it is. 

Born in north Wales to a white Welsh mother and a Black Guyanese father (a notable writer and artist), Williams shares her extraordinary journey from childhood to adulthood, across Wales, Africa and Guyana, and back to Wales. A voyage that’s shot-through with a palpable sense of dislocation, and never feeling a sense of belonging. Her Welsh-speaking mother is a distinctive presence. Recalling her dad’s words, Williams notes that “Ma was Welsh and she wasn’t taking orders from anybody.” She was a woman who “wore her difference like a banner. She was “flamboyant”, and had a “wildness of spirit.”

From childhood alienation and the racism of her classmates, to moving to Guyana with her husband as adult, we feel the complex entwining of being Welsh and Black, and a sense of both parents’ drives and conflicts. Lesser-known Black Welsh history is revealed, too, from Wales being the site of one of Britain’s first interracial marriages in 1768, to the 1892 “Congo Colony in Wales,” to Britain’s first major race riot taking place in Cardiff in 1919.

After leaving Guyana, having experienced yet more liminal discomforts as a result of being a Black and Welsh in a world of white English expats, Williams’ homecoming to Wales is tinged with bittersweet hope: “I love Wales but there’s a twist in the dragon’s tail”, she observes, having arrived back to find the country “in an angry mood”. And then comes an epiphany: “I know why it is I like Wales. I like it because it is fragmented, because there is a loud brawling row raging, because its inner pain is coming to terms with its differences and its divisions, because it realises it can’t hold onto the myth of sameness, past or present. I ponder what is to come.”

Powerful stuff. I can’t recommend Sugar and Slate more highly to anyone interested in Black history, Welsh history, and readers who love a damn good memoir.

Read more about the Black Britain, Writing Back series here.

Joanne Owen

Star Books

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